Mr. Ren Chao invited us into his farm at the southern end of Inarajan. We saw acres of fields stretching until the foothills, fruit trees of all kinds – banana, breadfruit, papaya, and mango – and two large greenhouses where plants were shielded from the intensity of Guam’s sun. Mr. Chao told us that he built those structures with the help of construction workers, some capital from USDA, and materials supplied from Korea and China. We were attracted to inklings of bright green crops growing in one of the greenhouses. We asked him to go there first.
“That’s spinach!” Mr. Chao showed us proudly, a smile hiding behind his mask. We stood there in awe at the beautiful, symmetrical rows of his spinach crop growing underneath the greenhouse’s filtered light.
Mr. Chao told us that in order to build the green house, he had to sculpt the landscape to make level ground, add concrete blocks, reinforce the metal frame, and install an irrigation system, all to cultivate and protect the future plants that would grow there. Despite its perceived permanence, he said it could be moved to another piece of land if he needed to.
Mr. Chao wasn’t always a farmer. Originally from a city near Shanghai, China, he arrived in the Northern Mariana Islands a few decades ago as part of the economic boom in manufacturing and tourism. But when those businesses slowed about 10 years ago, he moved to Guam to start his new venture – agriculture.
Depending on the season and local demand, Mr. Chao grows a variety of crops: bokchoy, radish, Malabar spinach, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, squash, pumpkin tips, long beans, and cucumbers. He also harvests from the fruit trees at his farm: breadfruit, guava, papaya, soursop, mangoes, and bananas. He delivers his harvests to hotels, restaurants, stores, and produce stands across the island, including Guåhan Sustainable Culture’s Farm-Fresh program, which is how we met him.
Mr. Chao told us that the farming life hasn’t always been easy, especially in recent months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He saw a substantial reduction in demand for his produce from hotels and restaurants, and also a decrease in the number of workers who were willing to help him till, seed, plant, and harvest his crops. Even though he has so much land to farm, he can’t cultivate to his farm’s full capacity with the few helpers that he has. He already wakes up early in the morning to start his day, and he often works after sundown, wearing a head lamp so he can see the seedlings he transplants into the ground. He talked about having to conduct several fields of pest control in one day, even on the fields that lay dormant, so that his crops remain safe from the ubiquitous bugs and fungus that threatened every farmer’s yield.
Mr. Chao reiterated the island’s need for more reliable workers to ensure that farmers can continue producing the food for the island. During our farm visit, we met two children, Brandon and Cory, who were excited to show us their own garden of plants they are learning to tend to. Mr. Chao was also so happy to have them show it to us. Cory pointed to the dragon fruit and other small seedlings. They told us they enjoy planting and hope to harvest their produce soon too.
Despite the ups and downs and the difficulties, Mr. Chao thoroughly enjoys farming the land. He explained his love for farming simply. “I like farming,” he says. “I like watching plants grow.”
Narrated by Cami Egurrola